Part I: Revisiting the university’s core values and changing the campus culture
At the very foundation of our improved campus culture will be a commitment to change—enduring change that results in an atmosphere that elevates professionalism and character. Four cornerstones will define this change, as we embrace a culture of Care, Concern, Consultation, and Compliance. These four words—distilled as cornerstones of our action plan—emerged from discussions among the members of our Task Force, led by the respective presidents of the Academic Senate and the Staff Assembly.
Care speaks to wellness. It is critical that our faculty and staff are mindful of their wellbeing, and seek help when they need it. This will decrease the chances that they will end up in situations in which they compromise their commitment to our Code of Ethics.
Concern speaks to an atmosphere in which we look out for one other. In such an atmosphere, anyone should express any type of concern—not just complaints—about faculty or staff, and the result should be compassionate intervention. Our goal is to help members of our community to correct their behavior before it negatively affects others, and long before compliance becomes the only option.
Consultation speaks to the prioritizing of candid discussion, and the respectful exchange of opinions. For this, we must strengthen our leadership model, and listen to those around us, particularly if we are in management positions or serve as role models for others. This can be achieved through shared governance and through 360-degree evaluations.
Compliance speaks to the fulfillment of these values, and how well we implement our action plan. This is an ongoing process, and requires feedback from our community, as well as continual adjustments and self-examination. In many ways, compliance is the most critical point among these cornerstones: without it, the previous three points are just promises. Compliance ensures that we live up to these promises.
Our success will not be measured with numbers and response rates, but rather in how we are treated on our campuses, and how we treat each other. We will continually ask the question: does our community’s culture nourish our intellectual and creative growth, foster an inclusive atmosphere, and support our personal wellbeing? Success in this area is an ambitious undertaking with a longer-range view, and will require us to consistently reexamine and refine our approach as our culture evolves. As always, throughout the process, we will seek to maintain the highest national standards.
We wish to emphasize that this process answers a specific recommendation from the Task Force, which advised that the university should engage in an employee-wide process to revisit our core values, identify these values as precisely as possible, and then instill those revised values into the university’s cultural fabric. In doing so, we have exceptional resources on which to draw, as our professional staff is already deeply engaged in compliance and concerns issues, and has developed the relevant expertise. To this end, the head of our compliance office will be elevated to vice president of ethics and compliance to emphasize the growing importance of culture and compliance in all our endeavors, and she will be the staff professional tasked with working with all constituents to advance the culture change.
This process could take many forms, and we have interviewed a number of consultants to potentially assist us in this process. As one possibility, this may begin with an online assessment through which all of our employees weigh in on what our values and culture should be—and, based on this collective input, we prepare a single statement. As a later phase of this process, we would extensively train all employees, starting at the top with the senior leadership team and working our way through our entire university community. In addition, programs could be put in place to ensure that core values and behavioral expectations are part of the onboarding process and are continuously reinforced throughout the workforce. This is a multi-year, continuing process whose path forward is less defined, but our commitment to the journey itself speaks to the seriousness with which we advance.
I. Code of Ethics
As our first step, we will redraft our existing Code of Ethics, so that we can be confident the document reflects the ideas we hope to embody in the coming years and decades. In doing so, we will examine its content from a broader perspective, one that listens closely and carefully to contemporary national discussions, and places these discussions in the context of today’s complex world. All faculty and staff will soon receive a copy of our current Code of Ethics for review and acknowledgment.
As a world-class academic institution, we must always strive to be better. Excellence in character is just as critical to success as excellence in our teaching, research, artistic, clinical, and other professional endeavors.
If you are concerned about suspected violations of law, university policy, or USC’s Code of Ethics, you can report the matter anonymously through USC’s Help and Hotline at (213) 740-2500 or https://ooc.usc.edu/how-to-use-help-hotline/
If you are concerned about a fellow Trojan challenged with personal difficulties, you can report the situation privately and anonymously through Trojans Care for Trojans: https://studentaffairs.usc.edu/trojans-care-for-trojans-tc4t/
We can only build the community we desire if we are each willing to stand up and speak out when the moment calls for it. We will demonstrate commitment to our culture of values and ethics through annual training of faculty and staff, and by incorporating our values into the onboarding process for new employees.
My sense is that our deeply ingrained values will remain constant. However, if the past several months have taught us anything, we now know that the standards by which we measure our faithfulness to those enduring values will and should evolve as new issues concerning workplace conduct and professionalism are brought to light. To address the need to stay current, and as recommended by the Task Force, the Campus Culture and Wellness Council (CCWC) will monitor and advise on evolving standards. We will also continue to monitor national trends to assess their application to, and implications for, our institution.
II. Co-worker Observation Reporting System (CORS)
In an effort to ensure that any and all concerns regarding unacceptable workplace behavior or conduct are expressed and acted on, we are exploring the applicability of the Vanderbilt Co-worker Observation Reporting System (CORS), as recommended by the Task Force. This reporting system will address the types of concerns that currently do not have a clear structure for handling. Some of these concerns may relate to the wellbeing of individuals in the USC community, while others may be manifestations of a lack of respectful communication among coworkers, a lack of professionalism, or other toxic behaviors.
CORS is a peer-based reporting model—currently geared to the medical enterprise—that records concerns centrally. These concerns are then evaluated by a select peer committee that proposes one of a range of possible responses, based on an analysis that compares the action/issue reported against a community-agreed-upon baseline.
At its core is a model of peer-to-peer interaction for educating and alerting individuals when a co-worker complaint has been generated. For less serious situations, a “cup of coffee” conversation allows the individual who has been reported to receive feedback from a peer-messenger who has been trained in sharing these types of concerns. Although the CORS-system is a centralized structure for addressing concerns, the reports are not sent to the individual’s direct supervisor, but are instead handled in a manner that encourages self-correction, after the issue has been raised in a less-threatening manner, such as a “cup of coffee.”
When co-worker complaints exceed a predetermined threshold, suggesting that an individual is unwilling or unable to self-correct, or when a concern is sufficiently severe, an escalation occurs. Higher levels of intervention follow, and include progressively more involvement by supervisors, department heads, or senior level administration.
CORS is presently used in hospital settings nationwide, including our own Keck Hospital. My leadership team and leaders of the Academic Senate and Staff Assembly are meeting with the group that created CORS to discuss ways to adapt that system for our general community. If successful, USC will be the first university in the country to use CORS outside of the hospital setting.
There are clear benefits to adapting this system for our academic community. Some issues do not require escalation, and the potential for self-correction through a peer-to-peer meeting, or a “cup of coffee” conversation, can resolve these issues effectively and efficiently, with enduring changes in behavior. Another important aspect of the CORS system is the creation of a database to compare concerns, and to use these comparisons to determine the best way to handle them. The CORS system has been in hospitals for more than 20 years and has generated thousands of data points regarding specific behaviors in a hospital environment. Currently, when a concern is raised through the CORS system at our own Keck Hospital, it is sent to Vanderbilt, where it is analyzed using this database and the optimal manner to handle the concern is then determined.
Possible responses range from peer-to-peer consultation to educate and alert the individual to the reported concern, to direct and swift action by senior leadership as necessary. This is a tangible example of the university’s commitment to enhancing its campus culture, and another example of our larger ambition to set a new standard for all universities, and to become a national leader in confronting workplace misconduct.